Forgive me if I tell you that my first thought upon walking down the illuminated steps to the lounge-y Press Club wine bar was:
“If I were hip, young and single, man, oh man, would this be the place to hang out.”
Ahem, well, I may be none of those things. But Press Club in downtown San Francisco sure made me feel that I possessed each and every one of those attributes, if only for a night.
You’ll feel that way, too, in this dimly lit, expansive space that’s cozily divided into separate areas to linger in low-slung couches, at tall communal bar tables with chrome and leather stools or at a smattering of seats at the bars.
Take your pick, but don’t dally, as all those seats will surely be snapped up as the night wears on, as folks gather for after-work drinks, a girls-night-out soiree or just to take a load off after an afternoon of shopping on Union Square.
While Press Club has always served food, it used to be more a place you’d stop in for a glass of wine and a quick nibble before heading elsewhere for dinner.
But that changed this spring when Chef Chris Borges of San Francisco’s Taste Catering came on board.
Under his direction, Press Club has transformed into a place where you would be remiss not to stay for the full shebang.
Last month, I had a chance to try the new menu when I was invited to be a guest of the establishment. It’s amazing the quality of food that Borges manages to turn out with only four employees in a small kitchen that has no hood and only electrical burners. He more than makes do with a microwave, an oven and sous vide equipment, being mindful to develop dishes that make use of every piece of equipment so that no one of them gets so overtaxed that orders get backed up.
We started with citrus cured arctic char gravlax ($12) draped over bruschetta. The lox-like fish was wonderfully buttery. Dollops of mascarpone and slivers of avocado added to the lovely richness on the palate. It was paired with a 2011 Miner Family Viognier Napa Valley that presented rich stone fruit notes along with plenty of bright acidity.
Next, a 2011 Gruner Veltliner Gottweiger Berg, Malat, Kremstal from Austria, the minerality of which contrasted nicely with the addicting fried Castelvetrano olives stuffed with eggplant puree ($9) that were crisp on the outside and almost meaty inside.
Lamb meatballs ($13) were incredibly moist and fluffy from the addition of water-soaked bread in the meat mixture. Served with a tangy yogurt sauce, these were fabulous alongside a full-bodied 2010 Patelin Rouge Tablas Creek from Paso Robles, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise.
Painted Hills beef short ribs ($14) are cooked sous vide for 24 hours at Taste Catering before transported still warm to Press Club’s kitchen. Beef stock, demi glace and a good dose of butter are then reduced to create the velvety sauce. A smidge of shaved fresh horseradish over the top of the tender meat completes the dish . What you’ll really go crazy for is the garnish: bite-size stuffed potatoes. Borges cleverly takes the leftover bits after trimming the short ribs neatly, then mixes them with creme fraiche, before stuffing the mixture into the hollowed-out little potatoes. It’s meat and potatoes — all in one perfect bite. Paired with a 2009 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a most memorable dish.
Cheese gets admirable attention here, especially because Borges, with his many years in the industry, is able to source unusual offerings you don’t see that often. Galen’s Good Old ($9), a raw cow’s milk cheese made in a Gouda-style, was lively and creamy. The accompaniments show real care, such as in the shaved asparagus salad alongside that was strewn with sesame seeds and pickled shiitakes. It’s never easy to pair wine with asparagus, but a glass of bubbly Domaine Carneros Rose Brut did the trick.
Servers are quite helpful at giving advice on pairings, whether it be from the extensive wine list or from the array of unusual boutique beers all on draft.
“We want people to think beyond just getting a drink and a quick snack here,” Borges says. “We want people to stay for dinner and to be thrilled by what they get.”
I’d say his wish just came true.